Awhile ago I had a negative experience working in a team and this experience is still bothering me and distracts me from work because it was left unresolved and occupies my mind. I can't tell if my perception that this was bullying is valid or bias so would appreciate input from someone independent.

My problems started with a colleague that I had to work closely with. He would regularly undermine me and pick apart things I was doing with disparaging comments. I don't believe these comments were designed to offend me, but rather a result of him being unsocialised, almost slightly autistic. However, I was being offended so regularly that I started noting a list of comments for the purpose of establishing whether or not there was a pattern before politely confronting him about it. I realised that these comments would only happen, on average, about once every 3-4 days, partly because a lot of the time we'd work in different areas of the office (hotdesking). These comments include things like:

You know you're only supposed to take 40minutes to do that quiz right? (In a mocking tone)

PAH that query is going to run forever you're not restricting the subquery! (normally a welcome criticism, but he was exclaiming at how stupid I was for not realising)

You should have tested X first before Y you're wasting effort (again, normally welcome criticism but said in a tone that was putting me down for being stupid I felt)

All relatively acceptable comments that warrant no more than a private word if it's bothering me. The problem was that the only interactions I had with him involved this negative feedback. Instead of being solution based or collaborative he'd only find things to pick apart or put me down for. Probably just his personality and nothing malicious.

Later, our boss secretly hired his brother through a fake contracting company and this is when I feel I started being treated unfairly. This new colleague was an Oxford graduate and I felt would look down his nose at me. He would regularly belittle me, talk down to me, lecture me on basic concepts like "what debugging is all about" despite my experience level. He would also dismiss my contributions. For example, we wanted to find a way to audit one of our databases and I researched the topic and drafted a design and sent it to him. His response was:

Do you not think that Microsoft, who have probably run into this problem a million times before, have a better solution than that? There're probably features of SSMS that was can use instead. (he sounded annoyed at the suggestion)

This prompted me to spend the evening collecting a list of SSMS auditing features and why they aren't appropriate/applicable to us. I sent him the document and he ignored it initially but when questioned agreed that my original suggestion was best (progress?).

On another more grievous occasion, he asked how a system does X during a standup. I explained that the system doesn't do X at all, and expects a different system to perform X first. I then explained how X happens and which system is responsible for it. After I finished, he ignored my existence, turned to the person next to me (not addressing me) and said "so today we will need to find out how the system does X" - pretending that I hadn't said anything. I was so stunned by this that I found myself in a fight/flight response, unable to talk with a lump in my throat.

This alienation was also exhibited by the colleague I first mentioned. Whenever I would express a professional opinion different from his, he would ignore me and pretend I wasn't there. At one point he wanted to implement a design for a database and I told him I wasn't sure if it's the best approach because it's not normalised and I thought it would be better to do XYZ because it was normalised and would result in less redundant attributes. I waited for his response but as soon as I expressed my opinion he turned away from me and started looking at his laptop again. After he didn't respond I followed my comment up with:

I mean, you can still do it that was if you like it's you're the developer on this piece of work. It just, you know, might not have my stamp of approval

He didn't acknowledge I said anything. This happened on a few occasions. Another time we couldn't agree on the best approach, I said X he said Y. He refuses to accept any suggestions I make so he took the problem to our architect to get his opinion. He agreed with me and gave directive for my solution to be implemented. After, my colleague wouldn't talk about it and just ignored the task and moved onto something else, I assume because he didn't want to implement my design.

Going back to the Oxford graduate, he would also require me to justify myself to him a lot to an extent that I started feeling targeted. On one occasion a taxi I needed failed to turn up as scheduled (village taxi service run by an alcoholic). This caused me to miss a train and as result I was an hour late to work (normally a 3-4 hour journey). I notified the team in a group chat but when arriving at the office he interrogated me about it (I use the word interrogate deliberately). He started trying to pick holes in my story and questioned every detail. It was literally like a prosecuting barrister, at one point he said

Are you trying to suggest that XYZ? (accusing me of lying)

To which I replied, "no, as I said in the group chat [...]". There were other similar occasions. I was looking through text messages and found a text I sent to a friend telling him "I'll be late meeting you because I have to explain myself to this guy like I always seem to have to on this project".

On another occasion I was made to admit guilt for a security breach. There was a set of draws used by everyone in the team with laptops and office equipment inside. These draws were under the desk of this graduate whilst everyone else was made to hotdesk in different areas of a 3-story office. One day security did a random spot-check and found it unlocked at night, they confiscated the key, left a breach note, and required someone to walk into security and sign their name before they can get the key back. This colleague, whilst the draws are under his desk and he was still working in the office when I left the day before, placed the blame on me and made me retrieve the keys and admit guilt (I feel it wasn't my responsibility).

Lastly, yes I promise, last example, there was an occasion where I was blamed for work not being done properly that I don't feel accountable for. A macro-heavy Excel spreadsheet needed a button added. I was designated developer, a colleague was designated tester. I added the button and code, tested that my code worked, and passed the spreadsheet to my colleague for dedicated testing. The problem is he did what I did: tested my new button (no regression testing). Somehow a table definition needed for an unrelated piece of code became unset causing a different button somewhere else to break. This meant a client had to send the product back to us as it didn't work anymore. The response was a nasty email from our boss saying we don't know how to test anything and how we've waisted peoples' time. I ended up receiving the majority of the blame in a meeting afterward and in our 1-to-1. In contrast, the colleague that was meant to be the tester boasted of how positive his 1-to-1 went. This together with the security breach incident makes me feel like the kicking goat that gets all the blame for everything.

As you can tell, none of these examples are too problematic in isolation (except for being ignored during a standup). However, over time grains of sand form a pile and I started feeling like the "joke" of the team always being indirectly called stupid, being blamed for things and generally being disregarded.

Was this bullying, or was it just a toxic dynamic, or something else? Am I being sensitive? To defend my honour, the project I moved to afterward has given a delivery award and lots of fantastic feedback including calling me the most technical person on the team and innovative. But maybe I'm just boasting ;) .

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    This question seems way too long. Nov 9 '20 at 15:03
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    What is your goal? How to handle similar situations in the Future - or merely being told you are not too sensitive?
    – morsor
    Nov 9 '20 at 15:07
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    @embedded_dev I know, sorry, feel it's all relevant, perhaps more a question for a councillor. Nov 9 '20 at 15:14
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    ill try reword it after work, spent 2 hours on it already @Old_Lamplighter Nov 9 '20 at 15:18
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    @Old_Lamplighter It’s mostly examples of what their colleagues have been doing to them? It’s hard to ask “is what my colleagues have been doing workplace bullying” without explaining what their colleagues have been doing. I do think that they should probably edit their question to include the information that I asked for in my first comment, but I don’t think that the question should be locked for it.
    – nick012000
    Nov 10 '20 at 23:16

Whether something qualifies as (workplace) bullying can often be very subjective. My take is that actual bullying is most often repetitive and akin to assault and should not be confused with people who are merely socially inept.

You mention many examples, which seems to indicate that you would like to address each situation in some unique way. I find that somewhat ambitious.

Depending on personality, it could be more fruitful to work with your own attitude towards 'difficult strangers'. Hopefully, one will encounter people on a similar wavelength to oneself (which rarely is a problem); other times a more professional approach will be required.

Some people are very direct, rude or just socially inept. I generally attempt to disregard their tone and concentrate on whether they are correct. If they are, I take in their advice and thank them - and make a mental note of how to interact with this individual in the future.

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